May 7th in history:
The British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7th, 1915. Nearly twelve hundred people aboard the ship died, including 128 Americans. The sinking is considered to be a major factor which led the U.S. into World War I, two years later.
On this date in 1960, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that American pilot Francis Gary Powers had been captured. Powers was flying a U-2 spy plane over the USSR when he was shot down on May 1st.
One of the scientists who developed the optics used on the U-2 was Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera. Land was born May 7th, 1909.
April 26th in history:
On April 26th, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union exploded during a test. Until an earthquake triggered an accident at a Japanese nuclear plant in 2011, the Chernobyl blast generally was considered the worst accident ever at a nuclear power plant.
A wartime bombing raid occurred on this date in 1937, when German planes attacked the Spanish town of Guernica, killing about one thousand people. The attack was immortalized in a mural by Pablo Picasso.
The German secret police force called the “Gestapo” was founded on April 26th, 1933. April 26th was also the birthday of Hitler aide Rudolf Hess (1894).
April 24th in history:
The first fatal accident during a space mission happened on this date in 1967. Soyuz 1, the Soviet Union’s first manned space flight in two years, crashed upon landing after two days in orbit. The crash killed the lone crew member, Vladimir Komarov, who was on his second space mission. The capsule’s parachute apparently failed to open properly.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched successfully on this date in 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
New Yorkers could get high in the sky without leaving the ground on April 24th, 1913, on the day that the Woolworth Building opened in Manhattan. You could see a long distance from the top of the skyscraper, which was 792 feet tall…the tallest building in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, until the Empire State Building was constructed.
The movie musical “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” starred Oscar-winner Barbra Streisand, who was born on April 24th, 1942. Streisand’s character in the movie believes she has been reincarnated. Another winner of the Best Actress Oscar, Shirley MacLaine, is a real-life believer in reincarnation. MacLaine, also a star of screen musicals such as “Can-Can” and “Sweet Charity,” came into the world as Shirley Beaty on this date in 1934.
April 12th in history:
A man moved around the Earth in a space capsule for the first time on April 12th, 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit.
Two accidents involving Soviet submarines have happened on April 12th. In 1970, the submarine K-8 sank while being towed in the North Atlantic after a fire. Fifty-two men died when the sub went down with nuclear torpedoes aboard. On April 12th of 1963, the nuclear sub K-33 collided with a Finnish merchant ship. The accident was kept a secret for 44 years.
“The Hunt for Red October,” partly set aboard a Soviet sub, was the first successful novel by author Tom Clancy, born on this date in 1947.
When the movie version of “Red October” was released in 1990, two of the more popular comedies on TV were shows that featured actors born on April 12th. Dan Lauria (born 1947) played Jack Arnold, Kevin’s dad on “The Wonder Years,” and Ed O’Neill (1946) starred as shoe salesman Al Bundy on “Married…with Children.”
March 15th in history:
Beware March 15th, the Ides of March — the day in 44 B.C. when emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by several members of the Roman Senate.
The Russian title “Czar,” meaning an emperor, is thought to be related to the name Caesar. Czar Nicholas the 2nd of Russia abdicated on March 15th, 1917. His brother then became the czar.
Russia was part of the Soviet Union for decades after the monarchy fell. On March 15th, 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev officially took the title of “president” of the USSR. He was the last Soviet president, when the Union disbanded the following year.
A band called the Ides of March was climbing up the record charts on this day in 1970 with its biggest hit, “Vehicle.” At the same time, the song “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” by Sly and the Family Stone was headed down the charts after hitting number 1 in February. The band’s leader, Sly Stone, was born on March 15th (year in dispute, 1943 or 1944).
March 5th in history:
Two famous show-business deaths on March 5th: John Belushi and Patsy Cline, who were both in their early 30s when they died. Comedian Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose on this day in 1982. Cline and other country singers were killed in a 1963 plane crash in Tennessee.
John Belushi once played an alien named Kuldorth in a “Coneheads” sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” On the day Belushi died in ’82, a Soviet spacecraft called Venera 14 landed on the surface of Venus, surviving the heat and atmospheric pressure of the planet for nearly an hour to take photographs.
A milestone in flight on March 5th, 1912: It was the first time that a dirigible, or zeppelin, was used for military purposes, when Italy sent a dirigible behind Turkish lines on a spy mission.
Led Zeppelin performed “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time in public in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 5th, 1971. The band’s bassist, John Paul Jones, says audience members were bored by the song because they had never heard it before.
February 7th in history:
On February 7th, 1962, the U.S. began an economic embargo on Cuba, which remains in effect today. The embargo came in response to Cuba’s allegiance with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
The Soviet government made a major policy change on February 7th, 1990, when the Communist party gave up its monopoly on power in the nation. Less than two years later, the Soviet Union would be disbanded.
And the band which eventually recorded “Back in the USSR” made its first official visit to the USA in 1964. The Beatles arrived at JFK Airport in New York on February 7th for their first American tour, including appearances three weeks in a row on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
January 27th in history:
The three astronauts who were scheduled to fly on the first Apollo mission died in a launchpad fire on January 27th, 1967, less than a month before the planned mission. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were unable to escape from the Apollo capsule after a flash fire broke out during an equipment test. A pure oxygen atmosphere inside the capsule was blamed for helping the fire spread quickly.
The fire happened the same day in 1967 that an Outer Space Treaty was signed by the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Great Britain. Dozens of other countries have signed it since then. The treaty bans countries from putting weapons of mass destruction into Earth orbit, and from using the moon for military purposes.
The Vietnam War officially ended on January 27th, 1973, when Vietnam and the U.S. signed the Paris Peace Accords. The treaties were signed one week into President Nixon’s second term, and five years after the Paris peace talks began.
The grave of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison has become a popular tourist attraction in Paris. Morrison’s career only lasted four years after the release of the first album by the Doors on January 27th, 1967.
The first Doors album featured the hit “Light My Fire.” On this date in 1984, singer Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire as a result of pyrotechnics used while he was filming a TV commercial for Pepsi.
October 25 in history:
The United Nations traded in old China for new on October 25th, 1971…when Taiwan (Nationalist China) was expelled and Communist China was admitted as a member. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., George Bush, walked out in protest. Bush later served as an unofficial ambassador to China before being elected vice-president and president of the U.S.
Another dramatic moment at the U.N. occurred on this date in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S. ambassador in ’62, Adlai Stevenson, presented evidence to the Security Council that the Soviets had missiles in Cuba. When the Soviet ambassador did not respond to the charge right away, Stevenson said he was prepared to wait for an answer “until hell freezes over.”
A “primrose path to Hell” is how Archbishop Francis Beckman of Dubuque described swing music in a speech to the National Council of Catholic Women on October 25th, 1938. Beckman made that speech on his 63rd birthday.
Wonder what the archbishop would have thought of rock and roll music. October 25th, 1977 was the day of Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant’s funeral. Van Zant was one of six people killed in the crash of the band’s plane in Mississippi. The new Lynyrd Skynyrd album “Street Survivors” was in stores at the time, and coincidentally showed band members surrounded by flames. Released that same week…Meat Loaf’s album “Bat Out of Hell,” which included not only the title track, but also “Heaven Can Wait” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
October 22 in history:
On October 22nd, 1962, President John F. Kennedy made a televised speech publicly revealing the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. In the speech, Kennedy announced a quarantine on ships that might be carrying offensive weapons to Cuba.
By coincidence, Kennedy’s address fell on the same night that JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader was recording a comedy album about the president, to be called “The First Family.” Meader later said that the actors knew about the speech before the recording session, but the studio audience did not. He thought the audience members would not have laughed as much, if they had been aware of the missile crisis.
Appearing on TV that October night in ’62, besides the president, was the game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” created by song-parody writer Allan Sherman, best known for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” His record “My Son, the Folk Singer” lost the Grammy for album of the year in 1963 to “The First Family.”
Marc Shaiman is famous for writing parodies and other songs for award-show hosts such as Billy Crystal and Neil Patrick Harris. And Shaiman won a Grammy and a Tony for his songs from the musical “Hairspray.” He was born October 22nd, 1959.